As you may have gathered previously, I have some real love for the Eberron campaign setting. It is, in fact, my published game world of choice for D&D. So, I had some pretty high standards for this book.
It measures up.
As has become my habit, let’s walk through the book chapter by chapter for my scintillating insights.
Art and Maps
I’m not a big one for judging the art in game books. Some of it I like, some of it I don’t, but it’s all really a personal call. That said, the look of Eberron (strongly established in 3E by the wonderful covers and opening spreads by Wayne Reynolds) always appealed to me. The art in the new books, with very few exceptions, holds up those high standards.
The maps, though, blow me away.
One of my two main complaints about the 3E Eberron stuff was the maps. There wasn’t a good political map for the continent, and the miniature maps in the various sections just didn’t show how things connected between the various nations. The new map in the Campaign Guide is wonderful – detailed, attractive, and useful. And the battle maps on the reverse are very nice.
Kudos to WotC for this.
The introduction reprints the Ten Important Facts section from the Eberron Player’s Guide. Except for referencing DM-centred books rather than player-centred books in the first point, the section is identical.
After that, there’s a section on what other books you need to use Eberron to its fullest, and a sidebar on looting the book for ideas.
A nice, quick introduction.
Chapter 1: Adventures
There’s a shift in design philosophy that came along with 4E. It’s subtle, but it showed up in the Forgotten Realms setting books last year, and it’s been carried over in the Eberron books this year even more strongly. Prior to this edition, campaign settings seemed to be aimed at creating vibrant, interesting, dynamic worlds in which the characters could adventure. Now, campaign settings seemd to be aimed at creating vibrant, interesting, dynamic settings for adventures*.
What I’m getting at is that the books are less focused on showing you how cool the world is, and more focused on showing you how to build cool adventures using the cool stuff in the world. This chapter is the core of that design, and does a very good job of showing how to make D&D adventures into Eberron adventures.
The chapter starts with an overall look at the world, discussing the three dragons, and giving us a map of the globe. It does a good job of laying the groundwork to incorporate Eberron’s rather idiosyncratic cosmology into the default 4E cosmology without eliminating the flavour, as well as a quick peek at history.
Then comes a long section on campaign themes. It lists five different themes that are central to the campaign world, and talks at length about how to incorporate elements of each one into your game. Some of the most valuable advice in the opening of this section is at risk of being overlooked by the reader – don’t try to cram all five themes in. Just focus on one or two major themes and go deep with them*.
There follows several pages covering three global threats, which brings me to my other complaint about the 3E Eberron books: they had a number of spoilers for the players embedded in sections that the players might read. The division of information between a player’s guide and a campaign guide nicely solves that problem. Or, at least, alleviates it somewhat*. Anyway, this is where you find out about the Aurum, the Chamber, and the Lords of Dust, none of whom are (as I recall) mentioned in the player’s guide. Details are given as to methods, objectives, and a couple of stat blocks for each organization – all very useful for integrating these threats as elements of your ongoing campaign.
History is next, with several pages of narrative and an “abbreviated” timeline that looks pretty complete to me. A lot of it is lifted right from the 3E campaign setting, with what looks like a couple of additions from other 3E Eberron books. The emphasis here is to show how the history of Eberron influences the possibilities of adventures for your game – it’s far cooler to investigate ruins of a Dhakaani goblin empire warren that was overrun by fleshwarped abominations during the war against the Daelkyr than it is to investigate a goblin cave where some aberrations are hiding.
Following that is a section dealing with integrating the magical technology of Eberron into the game – what sorts of magical services and toys are available, how magic is used in everyday life, and who’s doing the using of it. As this is one of the major flavour differences between Eberron and most other settings, the extra space discussing it and how it fits in the world is nice to see.
Finally, the chapter closes with a section on wondrous locations: sites of magic and mystery that you can use to add another fantastic element to your game. Again, the emphasis is on how to incorporate these things into the adventures you create for your game.
At this point, you could almost close the book and have a good chance at running a very Eberron-flavoured game. And you’re only on page 59.
Chapter 2: City of Towers
Chapter 3: The Five Nations
Chapter 4: Greater Khorvaire
Chapter 5: Beyond Khorvaire
I’m lumping these four chapters together, because they’re all essentially the same. They each deal with the geographic location in the title of the chapter, breaking down into smaller areas within each chapter.Â The focus is on providing adventure hooks and secrets for each locale, giving the GM lots of material for creating interesting adventures. And the individual maps are far more useful than the 3E ones.
Chapter 6: Dragonmarks
In many ways, the Dragonmarked Houses are dealt with in the same manner as the locales in previous chapters. The difference, of course, is that they’re more geographically diverse, spread around Khorvaire rather than being in any one particular spot.
The Dragonmarks support the guild-like structure of Khorvaire’s economy in interesting and gameable ways, and I’ve always liked them. The focus in this chapter on how they fit together (and where the points of friction are) is nicely clear, and gives you lots of intrigue fodder.
Chapter 7: Gods and Cosmology
The religions of Eberron are dealt with pretty well in the player’s guide. Here they expand a little on that information, and provide some of the secrets and adventure hooks that aren’t in the player’s guide. It also finishes addressing the non-standard planes of Eberron, complete with a nice diagram of them. Nothing really new, here, though some of the secrets of the Blood of Vol are spelled out a little more clearly than anywhere else I’ve seen, and the Khyber Cultist family was a nice addition.
Appendix: The Mark of Prophecy
This is the introductory adventure, and it’s not bad. As most WotC adventures, it’s a string of fights, but the Eberron flavour is emphasized through a flashback to the Last War and the Day of Mourning, an investigative skill challenge to track someone through Sharn, some interesting Prophecy Marks, and an eldritch doomsday device. It’s these touches of flavour that make all the difference.
Also evident is that this is not a site-based adventure – it follows on the Eberron tradition of moving action, shifting scenes, and a more cinematic approach to adventure design. It’s an approach of which I heartily approve.
So, there it is. The Eberron Campaign Guide does not disappoint. It is more than a worthy successor to the 3E version; it is a definite step forward for the world of Eberron.
*I said it was subtle. Back
*For the curious, the five themes are The Last War, The Draconic Prophecy, The Dragonmarked, Urban Intrigue, and Dungeon Delving. Back
*Let’s face it – nothing can be done to stop players who want spoilers from getting them, and it’s not worth it even to try. The best that you can hope for is to keep spoilers away from players who don’t want them, which is where the 3E book failed drastically. I’m looking at you, entries on Karrnath and Blood of Vol. Back